National Environmental Policy During the Clinton Years
We review major developments in national environmental policy during the Clinton Administration, defining environmental policy to include not only the statutes, regulations, and policies associated with reducing pollution, but also major issues of public lands management and species preservation. We adopt economic criteria for policy assessment — principally efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and distributional equity. While the paper is primarily descriptive, we highlight a set of five themes that emerge in the economics of national environmental policy over the past decade. First, over the course of the decade, national environmental targets were made more stringent, and environmental quality improved. Most important among the new targets were the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ambient ozone and particulate matter, issued by EPA in July 1997, which could turn out to be one of the Clinton Administration’s most enduring environmental legacies. Also, natural resource policy during the Clinton years was heavily weighted toward environmental protection. Environmental quality improved overall during the decade, continuing a trend that began in the 1970s, although improvements were much less than during the previous two decades. Second, the use of benefit-cost analysis for assessing environmental regulation was controversial in the Clinton Administration, while economic efficiency emerged as a central goal of the regulatory reform movement in the Congress during the 1990s. When attention was given to increased efficiency, the locus of that attention during the Clinton years was the Congress in the case of environmental policies and the Administration in the case of natural resource policies. Ironically, the increased attention given to benefit-cost analysis may not have had a marked effect on the economic efficiency of environmental regulations. Third, cost-effectiveness achieved a much more prominent position in public discourse regarding environmental policy during the 1990s. From the Bush Administration through the Clinton Administration, interest and activity regarding market-based instruments for environmental protection — particularly tradeable permit systems — continued to increase. Fourth, the Clinton Administration put much greater emphasis than previous administrations on expanding the role of environmental information disclosure and voluntary programs. While such programs can provide cost-effective ways of reaching environmental policy goals, little is known about their actual costs or effectiveness. Fifth and finally, the Environmental Protection Agency placed much less emphasis on economic analysis during the 1990s. EPA leadership was more hostile to economic analysis than it had been under the prior Bush Administration, and it made organizational changes to reflect this change in priorities.
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